Leadership

COVID-19 Q&A with Tao Tao: There's No Operational Playbook, Do What's Right

April 6, 2020
Tao Tao
Chief Operating Officer
Leadership
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Our COO, Tao Tao, was a guest on Arival's Ask Me Anything webinar. The theme was how we're navigating the landscape in the wake of COVID-19. In the in-depth interview, Tao Tao spoke with Douglas Quinby, CEO of Arival, on our strategy, response to the pandemic, and the steps we’re taking to support our suppliers and operators.

The webinar dug into how online distribution would look like in a post-pandemic world, and what this means for operators of tours, activities, and attractions around the world.  Watch the interview on Arrval Online and read the highlights below.

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Initial reaction: The safety of our customers and staff

Tao explains how one of the first things we did was waive cancellation fees for supply partners, made customer cancellations flexible, and bore the cost of cancellations if our suppliers could not afford to. Being in the same boat as our suppliers, we saw our revenues and bookings drop heavily. It's the biggest challenge that the travel industry has ever seen.

Furthermore, we were one of the first companies in Berlin to establish a global work from home policy to ensure the safety of our team and the communities around us. When asked about how the management team was doing personally during this crisis, Tao replied, "We're okay. It's our job."

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When planning for the future, hope for the best and prepare for the worst

Even the best experts disagree on the future at this point. The only way to control our fates is to prepare for the worst, preserve cash, and ultimately be ready for recovery.

It's impossible to predict the future, but there are a few ways you can brace your company for it. Tao recommends all businesses should have a cost structure in place and a contingency plan if the situation goes longer than expected. His prognosis? There are just too many variables, and we can't be sure.

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We do know for sure that people will want to have real travel experiences again

Customers will want real experiences again, the COO assures. In March, we launched our World at Home campaign, where customers can go on virtual tours and activities like cooking classes in Italy or take a “walk” through the Vatican. Still, the COO clarifies that people will still want to smell, see, feel, hear real experiences. So we tell our suppliers to go into hibernation mode and preserve their resources to be ready for when the customers come back.

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On reacting quickly to changes: There's no playbook, do what's right

GetYourGuide was a student project born in the financial downturn of 2008. We bootstrapped the company for 2-3 years without external capital. Our core values around taking ownership, thriving in uncertainty, simplifying things–– these were written during a crisis. These values sound easy at the time, but they are more critical during difficult times. Tao says, “The startup juices are coming back these days.”

We had two mindsets when we realized we were amid a global pandemic:

  1. Empower the local teams to do the right thing. Local teams get their information faster than we do, so we trust them to make the right decisions.
  2. It's better to be fast than perfect. Should we cancel bookings in an affected area? Just do it. Should we reach out to our suppliers? Just do it.

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On how we are supporting our suppliers: Focus on the urgent matters

The big questions on the webinar participant's minds were how we’re supporting our suppliers. Here is Tao’s response:

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Manage through the situation

The whole world is facing economic constraints right now, ourselves included. Even governments are struggling with supporting small businesses at the current rate. We are entrepreneurs and are very pragmatic. As there are fewer bookings, we are currently focusing on the matters at hand — counseling our suppliers on cash management and how they can keep their business running smoothly during these times.

Our account managers are working around the clock: on the phone with suppliers, giving them updates, directing them towards government resources, and being there for them.
Internally, we are looking at how to navigate through this period and maintain business operations. We are preserving our resources, looking to government support, and focusing on maintaining financial flexibility.

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Our focus is on the customers

We are focusing on making sure our customers don't forget that travel is here to stay. With campaigns like The World at Home, we are keeping them engaged. The tours and activities industry has never been about awards or limelight. It's been about being grassroots entrepreneurs, super agile, and adapting to the changes.

Our most prominent investors are not our investors. It's our customers. They are the number one funding for our staff, technology, marketing, and no amount of external funding can carry the load our customers carry.

For more interviews and webinars for operators of tours and activities, check out Arival Online.

For other related articles, please visit COVID-19 updates from the People department.

For updates about our open positions check out our Careers page.

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